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Q&A: Over- or Under-Responsive?


I have so many kids on my caseload this year that need sensory diets. I have taken courses through another company that focus on high- and low-arousal protocols and, honestly, it’s made me a little more confused. So, I’ve gone back and read your trainings, which make more sense to me.

I had a teacher fill out checklists and the child I thought would be over-responsive was actually under-responsive in several areas. The reason I thought he was over-responsive was that he bangs his head when he is frustrated with a task. The child also wants to tap, shake, and spin everything. I notice that sometimes when he walks around the room he bends forward and dips his head. He is also constantly chewing on his chewy item or the handkerchief around his neck.

The school has a therapy room with good equipment (swings, Jungle Jumparoo, ball pit, sensory pod, spin disc, squeezer, etc.). Do you think it’s okay to take a child out of the classroom and use this equipment for breaks?  I feel like it’s needed in this case as a way for the child to get away from other students for a bit. But then that makes me question whether or not he’s actually over-responsive?

My next question is this: Is there a sensory diet/plan form that you use?

Thank you for any help you can give to help figure out under-responsive vs over-responsive!


It’s definitely never as clear-cut as we would like it to be! Probably what you are seeing with this student is over-responsivity to a couple of forms of input while under-responsivity to a couple of other forms of input. That’s common. It sounds like he is upset when banging his head though, which is an indicator that calming strategies will be most helpful to prevent that behavior. So maybe before a nonpreferred task or one he is likely to get frustrated with, he could choose two calming strategies to get his brain and his body ready and one highly preferred activity to look forward to on task completion. I would use a visual schedule to set this up.

I do think it could be beneficial for him to be allowed to use the therapy room for breaks, but I would put some structure into them. If you are using BrainWorks, have him identify at the beginning of the break whether he needs calming (red) or alerting (green) activities and then allow him to make selections within those categories. The yellow just-right activities are always okay. If he benefits from having the chance to get away from the other students, that doesn’t necessarily mean he is an over-responder across the board; rather it may mean that he is over-responsive to auditory or visual input, while still being under-responsive to vestibular or proprioceptive input. Therefore, getting out of the classroom (noisy, visually stimulating) while being allowed to engage in alerting forms of movement activities, may be just what he needs.

You can find my “Sensory Needs and Assessment Summary and Intervention Plan” in the Free Resources section of our website:

I hope that helps!

Best Wishes,